Business & Economy

Why LA will be home to a new smart manufacturing institute

Aerojet Rocketdyne has a 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Canoga Park. Los Angeles still has more manufacturing workers than anywhere in the country.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has a 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Canoga Park. Los Angeles still has more manufacturing workers than anywhere in the country.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Listen to story

00:56
Download this story 0MB

President Obama announced Monday that a new federally-funded institute dedicated to making manufacturing more efficient will open in Los Angeles, on the University of California, Los Angeles campus.  

It will be the ninth manufacturing hub awarded by the Obama Administration, which announced the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute at UCLA will also coordinate the work of five regional offices. 

David Friedman, acting U.S. assistant energy secretary, said American factories aren’t using nearly enough technology, which makes them wasteful.

“In many ways they’re still operating in the 20th century in the amount of information and data they gather," he said.

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute at UCLA will be leading a nationwide effort to develop tools – like smart sensors that monitor energy use. Initial funding will come from a $70 million dollar federal grant and another $70 million from private and state grants, but officials hope the institute will be self-funding in five years.

“It’s going to save our businesses money, which is going to translate into more profits and more jobs, which is going to translate into a stronger manufacturing sector,” said Friedman.

The institute is an outgrowth of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition – a group of nearly 200 partners from academia, industry, and non-profits – that has been headquartered in Los Angeles since 2006.

Jim Davis, a UCLA Vice Provost for Information Technology, is co-chair of the coalition and has been working for two years on bringing the institute to Los Angeles. He says the city won because it has the perfect combination of industries (the other competitors were not disclosed).

“It’s a nexus of information technology together with a strong focus on energy and environment together with being a manufacturing state," said Davis.

The actual number of people working at the center will be small, but Davis hopes the tens of millions of dollars in government and private investment will eventually spur big job gains for factory and information technology workers in California.

More than 1.5 million jobs will be created over 10 years nationwide through energy efficiency savings and stimulating a growing smart manufacturing supply chain, according to the proposal the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition submitted to the Department of Energy.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti praised the Energy Department's decision to award Los Angeles the institute.

"Los Angeles is the ideal place to build the future of advanced manufacturing," Garcetti said in a written statement. "I applaud the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition and our federal partners for realizing the promise of this institute, and am encouraged by its potential to bring even more good-paying jobs and economic development to L.A."